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Anti-Racism Teach-In: Glossary

Anti-Racism is the policy or practice of opposing racism and promoting racial tolerance. This guide is designed to provide MDC resources as well as links to organizations dedicated to anti-racism efforts.

Terms You Should Know


The doctrine or practice of vigorous action or involvement as a means of achieving political or other goals, sometimes by demonstrations, protests, etc.

Cultural Representations:

Cultural representations refer to popular stereotypes, images, frames, and narratives that are socialized and reinforced by media, language, and other forms of mass communication and “common sense.” Cultural representations can be positive or negative, but from the perspective of the dismantling structural racism analysis, too often cultural representations depict people of color in ways that are dehumanizing, perpetuate inaccurate stereotypes, and have the overall effect of allowing unfair treatment within the society as a whole to seem fair, or ‘natural.’

Cultural Appropriation:

Theft of cultural elements for one’s own use, commodification, or profit — including symbols, art, language, customs, etc. — often without understanding, acknowledgment, or respect for its value in the original culture. Results from the assumption of a dominant (i.e. white) culture’s right to take other cultural elements.


Diversity has come to refer to the various backgrounds and races that comprise a community, nation or other grouping. In many cases the term diversity does not just acknowledge the existence of diversity of background, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and so on, but implies an appreciation of these differences. The structural racism perspective can be distinguished from a diversity perspective in that structural racism takes direct account of the striking disparities in well-being and opportunity areas that come along with being a member of a particular group and works to identify ways in which these disparities can be eliminated.


Ethnicity refers to the social characteristics that people may have in common, such as language, religion, regional background, culture, foods, etc. Ethnicity is revealed by the traditions one follows, a person’s native language, and so on. Race, on the other hand, describes categories assigned to demographic groups based mostly on observable physical characteristics, like skin color, hair texture and eye shape.


Hegemony is the political, economic, and cultural dominance of one social group’s (or nation’s) values, beliefs, and interests over another. It is an expression of ideology that, even if consented to rather than forced, actually serves the interests of the dominant group.

Individual Racism:

Individual racism can include face-to-face or covert actions toward a person that intentionally express prejudice, hate or bias based on race.

Institutional Racism:

Institutional racism refers to the policies and practices within and across institutions that, intentionally or not, produce outcomes that chronically favor, or put a racial group at a disadvantage. Poignant examples of institutional racism can be found in school disciplinary policies in which students of color are punished at much higher rates that their white counterparts, in the criminal justice system, and within many employment sectors in which day-to-day operations, as well as hiring and firing practices can significantly disadvantage workers of color.

Implicit Bias:

Also known as unconscious or hidden bias, implicit biases are negative associations that people unknowingly hold. They are expressed automatically, without conscious awareness. Many studies have indicated that implicit biases affect individuals’ attitudes and actions, thus creating real-world implications, even though individuals may not even be aware that those biases exist within themselves. Notably, implicit biases have been shown to trump individuals’ stated commitments to equality and fairness, thereby producing behavior that diverges from the explicit attitudes that many people profess. The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is often used to measure implicit biases with regard to race, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, and other topics.


Exposing [one’s] multiple identities can help clarify the ways in which a person can simultaneously experience privilege and oppression. For example, a Black woman in America does not experience gender inequalities in exactly the same way as a white woman, nor racial oppression identical to that experienced by a Black man. Each race and gender intersection produces a qualitatively distinct life.

Per Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, "Intersectionality is simply a prism to see the interactive effects of various forms of discrimination and disempowerment. It looks at the way that racism, many times, interacts with patriarchy, heterosexism, classism, xenophobia — seeing that the overlapping vulnerabilities created by these systems actually create specific kinds of challenges. “Intersectionality 102,” then, is to say that these distinct problems create challenges for movements that are only organized around these problems as separate and individual. So when racial justice doesn’t have a critique of patriarchy and homophobia, the particular way that racism is experienced and exacerbated by heterosexism, classism etc., falls outside of our political organizing. It means that significant numbers of people in our communities aren’t being served by social justice frames because they don’t address the particular ways that they’re experiencing discrimination."

National Values:

National values are behaviors and characteristics that we as members of a society are taught to value and enact. Fairness, equal treatment, individual responsibility, and meritocracy are examples of some key national values in the United States. When looking at national values through a structural racism lens, however, we can see that there are certain values that have allowed structural racism to exist in ways that are hard to detect. This is because these national values are referred to in ways that ignore historical realities. Two examples of such national values are ‘personal responsibility’ and ‘individualism,’ which convey the idea that people control their fates regardless of social position, and that individual behaviors and choices alone determine material outcomes.

Progress & Retrenchment:

This term refers to the pattern in which progress is made through the passage of legislation, court rulings and other formal mechanisms that aim to promote racial equality. Brown v. Board of Education and the Fair Housing Act are two prime examples of such progress. But retrenchment refers to the ways in which this progress is very often challenged, neutralized or undermined. In many cases after a measure is enacted that can be counted as progress, significant backlashes—retrenchment—develop in key public policy areas. Some examples include the gradual erosion of affirmative action programs, practices among real estate professionals that maintain segregated neighborhoods, and failure on the part of local governments to enforce equity oriented policies such as inclusionary zoning laws.

Permanence of Racism

Racism is ordinary, not aberrational, “normal science” and the corollary disadvantages for people defined as belonging to racial groups that were not considered Whites is the dominant power structure in the United States the ideology that racism influences all aspects (political, economic,

social, and educational) of U.S. society. Racism is the set of institutional, cultural, and interpersonal patterns and practices that create advantages for people legally defined and socially constructed as ‘white.’


Critical Theory supports the understanding of power relations, as mutually constructed. Oppression is an interlocking system, where racism, sexism and classism are in relationship to each other and do not act in isolation. Power is exercised across four domains: structural, disciplinary, cultural, and interpersonal.

(1) a structural domain, where social institutions of society, such as banks, hospitals, schools, corporations, retail establishment, government agencies, and health care;

(2) a disciplinary domain, where modern bureaucracies regulate race relations through their rules and practices, primarily surveillance;

(3) a cultural domain, where ideologies, such as white supremacy, patriarchy, and heterosexism, are constructed and shared; and

(4) an interpersonal domain that shapes social relations between individuals in everyday life.

Racial Equity:

Racial equity refers to what a genuinely non-racist society would look like. In a racially equitable society, the distribution of society’s benefits and burdens would not be skewed by race. In other words, racial equity would be a reality in which a person is no more or less likely to experience society’s benefits or burdens just because of the color of their skin. This is in contrast to the current state of affairs in which a person of color is more likely to live in poverty, be imprisoned, drop out of high school, be unemployed, and experience poor health outcomes like diabetes, heart disease, depression, and other potentially fatal diseases. Racial equity holds society to a higher standard. It demands that we pay attention not just to individual-level discrimination, but to overall social outcomes.

Structural Racism:

A system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial group inequity. It identifies dimensions of our history and culture that have allowed privileges associated with “whiteness” and disadvantages associated with “color” to endure and adapt over time. Structural racism is not something that a few people or institutions choose to practice. Instead, it has been a feature of the social, economic, and political systems in which we all exist.

Structural Violence:

It refers to a form of violence wherein some social structure or social institution may harm people by preventing them from meeting their basic needs

Systemic Racism:

In many ways “systemic racism” and “structural racism” are synonymous. If there is a difference between the terms, it can be said to exist in the fact that a structural racism analysis pays more attention to the historical, cultural, and social psychological aspects of our currently racialized society.

White Privilege:

White privilege, or “historically accumulated white privilege,” as we have come to call it, refers to whites’ historical and contemporary advantages in access to quality education, decent jobs and livable wages, homeownership, retirement benefits, wealth, and so on. The following quotation from a publication by Peggy Macintosh can be helpful in understanding what is meant by white privilege: “As a white person I had been taught about racism that puts others at a disadvantage, but had been taught not to see one of its corollary aspects, white privilege, which puts me at an advantage. . . White privilege is an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in every day, but about which I was meant to remain oblivious.” (Source: Peggy Macintosh, “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” excerpted from Working Paper #189 White Privilege and Male Privilege a Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies. Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College Center for the Study of Women (1989).)


Critical scholarship on whiteness is not an assault on white people, rather it is a necessary intervention to combat the constructed and constantly reinforced power of white identity and interests. Whiteness is not a culture but a hegemonic social concept. It is a “hierarchal racial discourse” distinct from the socially constructed racial category of “White people,” which represents a socially constructed identity usually based on race. Whiteness is a pervasive racialized worldview that is supported by material practices and institutions described it as the right to identity as enshrined and embraced by all aspects of society.

Taken from: Terms You Should Know To Better Understand Structural Racism, Taken from Racial Equity Institute at and Racial Equity Tools at, July 17, 2020

Additional Terms on Structural Racism